Irish Penal Reform Trust

Penal Reform International launches Global Prison Trends 2020

23rd April 2020

Global Prison Trends 2020 is the sixth edition in Penal Reform International's (PRI) annual flagship Global Prison Trends series which identifies important developments and challenges in criminal justice, and prison policy and practice. This report is published in collaboration with the Thailand Institute of Justice and explores trends in crime, justice and imprisonment, trends in the use of imprisonment including the funding of penitentiary systems, prison populations such as women, children, older persons and minority groups, prison management including the provision of health services and the role and use of technology in prison.

The key trends documented in the 2020 report are:

  • The global prison population is increasing
  • Sentences are getting longer
  • Funding for most criminal justice systems is too low
  • Detention conditions are substandard in many countries

The report documents record levels of people in prison, with 11 million people now in prisons worldwide. This is an increase of 20% in prison population since 2002 and includes an 84% increase in prisoners sentenced to life between 2000 and 2014. The report also documents a 50% increase in women in prison since 2000, with over 700, 000 women in custody. As well as this, 19,000 children are currently living with their mothers in prison, and there are over 410,000 children in detention facilities.

Similarly, the overcrowding and underfunding of prisons, alongside the overuse of imprisonment, has resulted in poor health services and sanitary conditions for prisoners. This is particularly poignant with regard to Covid-19, as it makes people in prison and prison staff acutely vulnerable to the disease.  This report documents that over 124 prisons are exceeding their maximum occupancy rate. Global Prison Trends shows how this increase in numbers is driven by a punitive approach to criminal justice where more costly prison sentences are favoured over non-custodial alternatives.

This year, the ‘Special Focus’ section of the report looks at alternatives to imprisonment. PRI advocates for an increase in the use of alternatives to detention as a solution to the global prison crisis. In the long-term, this will reduce reoffending rates, better protect human rights, and tackle overcrowding. The report notes the wide range of diversions and alternatives at the pre-trial and post-conviction stages that are available. They state that, alongside crime prevention initiatives and adequately funded rehabilitation programmes, these alternatives can help tackle key challenges. Most importantly, they mention that the political backing of alternatives to imprisonment as a response to the coronavirus pandemic need to be harnessed for longer-term reform.

Imprisonment in Ireland is mentioned in the report under the section on ‘Health in Prison’. In particular, the report makes reference to the Community Based Health and First Aid Programme, which trains prisoners to be peer health educators. This programme has been credited with a reduction in violence and improved health among prisoners.

The report also cites research commissioned by IPRT on Making Rights Real for People with Disabilities in Prison. The research details how some people in prison in Ireland living with disabilities were effectively confined to their cells due to the lack of accessibility in the prison environment.

To read Global Prison Trends 2020 in full, visit the PRI website here.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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